Michael Kirby calls for transgender law reform

michael kirby un
Photo: US Mission Geneva/Eric Bridiers/Creative Commons

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has urged Japan to end its “regime” of forcing transgender people to undergo invasive surgery in order to get legal recognition.

The distinguished Australian lawyer is co-chair of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute. Kirby told Japanese lawmakers there’s “no excuse” for not reforming gender recognition laws.


“The purpose of law is to protect people and organise society according to principles of justice,” he wrote in an op-ed in Japanese newspaper IRONNA.

“There is nothing protective or just about Japan’s Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act.”

Kirby urged Japanese lawmakers to “urgently revise” the law. He said there is “no excuse for continuing a regime of forcing sterilisation on people.”

Kirby recalled attending a UN consultation in Hong Kong on transgender law reform, to which organisers also invited a Belgian surgeon. The surgeon produced slides of photos showing “how invasive trans surgery is.”

“And how totally disproportionate imposing it on unwilling people is when all they generally want is a new passport or identity document,” Kirby explained.

Following that consultation, Hong Kong lawmakers withdrew their proposed legislation.

“More people who propose compulsory reassignment surgery for the unwilling should be required to see those medical slides,” Kirby said.

“[They should] consider what they are demanding of a fellow human being who knows who they are and does not feel the need of invasive surgery to prove it.”

Michael Kirby calls for ‘freedom and respect’ for transgender people

Michael Kirby continued, “When Japan instituted its legal gender recognition law in 2004, it was a major turning point in how the government treated issues of gender and sexuality.

“At that time, major Japanese allies and trade partners such as Germany, the Netherlands and my home country of Australia all required trans people to be sterilised before they were legally recognised.

“Each of these governments – and dozens more – have subsequently passed laws declaring surgery isn’t a requirement for legal recognition.

“Under these new legal regimes, transgender citizens have been able to thrive.


“Society has benefited from the increased freedom and respect afforded to this minority group.”

In December, a Tokyo court ruled denying trans people access to the bathroom of their gender is “unlawful and discriminatory”.

“Some transgender people want surgery, others do not,” Kirby said.

“It is the government’s responsibility to ensure this major undertaking is their choice – not forced upon them by law.

“It’s time for Japan to join its peers and put forced sterilisation of transgender people in the past.”

Transgender recognition laws in Australia

In Australia, Tasmania, South Australia, Northern Territory and the ACT have passed laws allowing trans and gender diverse people to update their birth certificates without surgery.

Last August, Victoria made similar changes.

However other states, including Queensland, is lagging behind.

Surgeries are out of reach of many transgender Australians for various financial, medical, faith or personal reasons.

As a result, many transgender and gender diverse people must “out” themselves in situations requiring their birth certificate.

The laws also generally prevent children under 18 from updating their sex markers on their documentation.

Meanwhile, Michael Kirby previously spoke out about the Morrison government’s controversial religious discrimination bill.

In November, Kirby slammed the bill as “unbalanced” and warned it would lead to “intolerance and hostility” in Australian society.

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